FULTON, Ill. — Walking up to the Andresen Nature Center this week, it's hard to avoid the gaggle of school-age children — especially in the middle of their experiments.
About a dozen children from Fulton, and even Bloomington, Illinois, were testing ultraviolet radiation with UV beads that changed colors in the sun. Running up to their camp leader, Stacy Gates, to ask questions and tweak the experiment, they seemingly enjoyed their third day of Mad Scientist Camp.
"It's important to get kids exposed to nature, and science in general," said Kyle Kopf, caretaker of the Andresen Center.
Four years ago, Gates — a science teacher at Fulton High School and a committee member overseeing the center — had an idea to promote the nature learning space and get her science club students involved in a service project. Two camps, Mad Scientist and STEM, are held over a week each summer; this year, so far, is the best turn out.
"It's fun to do science experiments and stuff with kids my age," Ethan Brown, 15, said.
Brown has been to Mad Scientist Camp since its inception, and has a hard time pinpointing his favorite experiments — answering "that's a toughie," to the question. He finally pinned it down to "forensic camp," as he called it, when he learned how to decipher types of ink.
Gates confessed she enjoys doing the experiments with the students, especially since they don't preclude regular paperwork. It's a small hands-on group tackling science experiments, like how much energy can be burned with different foods or demonstrations of air pressure.
Pierre Mure-Ravaud, a FHS graduate and previous science club member, said he can't guarantee the participants will embrace a science future, but they are definitely intrigued — at least entertained — now.
"It's fun to do different little experiments with the kids," he said, "and show them how fun science can really be."
With beads in hand, they tested UV radiation behind a windshield, under a hat, with sunscreen, etc. Some comments overheard from the children hard at work:
"It's gonna take forever to turn back white," one said.
"...mine is going to fade away into nothing."
"So, each time you do it it'll be something different?"
Kopf said the center and its committee are conscious of the voices of children. He wants them to be involved, speak up about what the center could provide that would be of interest. In his experience, regarding the science camps, "they don't want it to stop."
There are currently two, funded spots available for STEM camp, starting in less than two weeks.